Bees find food the same way other animals find food – through sensory input and an understanding of the features of their environments. Bees have an acute sense of smell, and they can remember and recognize patterns, such as the patterns of colors that are likely to be near good food. They can also recognize symmetry, a trait that scientists typically associate with more intelligent life forms. All of these abilities help bees find and recognize flowers, which produce the pollen they use for protein and the nectar they use for energy.
When a honeybee scout finds food, she uses two known tools to understand where it is. One is her solar compass, which lets her remember where things are in relation to the sun. The bee’s ability to see polarized light lets her determine where the sun is regardless of whether it is obscured by clouds. The other tool is her internal clock, which lets her keep track of how far she has flown. Her internal clock also lets her determine of how much the sun moves during her journey. In other words, when she returns to the hive, she can tell her sisters exactly where the food is in relation to the current position of the sun, not the position of the sun when she found the food
When honeybee returns to the hive, the scout bee recruits her sisters to carry the food back to the nest. They, like the scout, are the oldest bees in the hive. The scout distributes samples of the food, which will help her sisters find the food when they reach their destination. Then, she performs a dance on the vertical surface of the combs in the hive. The area on which she performs the dance is commonly known as the dance floor, and the worker bees who observe the dance are followers.
If the food is nearby, the bee performs a round dance by traveling in loops in alternating directions. The round dance doesn’t convey much information about exactly where the food is. However, it’s generally close enough that the worker bees can smell it fairly quickly.
When the food is far away, the scout performs a waggle dance. During the waggle dance, the scout runs in a straight line while waggling her abdomen, and then returns to the starting point by running in a curve to the left or right of the line. The straight line indicates the direction of the food in relation to the sun. If the bee runs straight up the hive wall, then the foragers can find the food by flying toward the sun. If she runs straight down the wall, then the foragers can find the food by flying away from the sun. As the dance progresses, the dancing bee adjusts the angle of the waggle run to match the movement of the sun.
Source: www.polarization.com, www.pnas.org, www.economist.com, animals.howstuffworks.com, www.buzzaboutbees.net, www.insectidentification.org